Canada has lost two icons, in the last two weeks. This is my tribute to them both: Lois and Jonathan.
Lois Lilienstein, dies at age 78
Sharon, Lois, and Bram were a part of my childhood.
Sure, I wasn’t a huge fan of the giant, silent elephant, but I did watch the three performers and I liked their songs.
Somewhere in between Polka Dot Door and Today’s Special.
The Elephant Show was full of skits and songs and it was always there, seemingly just there, in the background of my early years.
It was comforting like home.
The theme song is unforgettable for anyone who has ever heard it.
“Love you in the morning and in the afternoon. Love you in the evening and underneath the moon.”
The folky sounding music they sang together made them some of the best children’s performers around. They volunteered for certain children’s events, such as appearing where I saw them, met them, and had my photo taken with them.
I was a teenager by this time, but my brother and I had both received kidney transplants at Sick Children’s Hospital in downtown Toronto.
We were at a celebratory event, one afternoon, in the hospital’s main atrium. We posed with Sharon, Lois, and Bram by the cake.
Then, as I grew, I’d long since outgrown kid’s shows and soon what became important to me was what made me proud to be Canadian, with the development of my love for my country’s literary history.
I was shocked, last week, when I first read, in my news feed for Facebook…
Jonathan Crombie, dies at age 48
This was the last thing I was expecting.
There’s always a certain obvious morbidity in my mind, as one celebrity dies and I already start thinking, I wonder who the next one will be to pass away.
Jonathan Crombie was only forty-eight and died, a few days before the official announcement, from a brain hemorrhage.
Right away I felt a sickening feeling inside.
He was Gilbert Blythe. He “was” the role. He WAS that character.
I knew the PBS mini series before I really read the books. It all came to life for me, on screen, with the descriptive video I received in the mail in the late nineties.
Most girls had their prince charming, Disney prince of their choice. I had Gil. He was what an ideal male would be. He became the ideal for me.
Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe always reminded me of my grandparents, right from the first time I became truly aware of their love story.
I never thought I would be writing about why this character means to me what he does, not for this reason. I had assumed it would come up eventually, here or somewhere else, but that I would talk about the significance of Anne and Gilbert or Gil himself, as an upbeat writing on my favourite literature.
I didn’t think, couldn’t predict I would be writing about what Jonathan’s role as Gil meant to me, not as a tribute to the life lived by the man behind the beloved Canadian literary character, at the time of his premature death.
But here we are.
I don’t know exactly what Jonathan felt about his time playing Gilbert. I would assume he realized what that role meant to people like me. I read he would often answer to “Gil”, but whether or not this is true I can not say.
I do know he played the role of Gilbert for all three movies. He started as a fairly young guy in the eighties.
He was the son of David Crombie, Mayor of Toronto, long before Ford would make the position famous for so many other things.
Jonathan performed on the stage, Shakespearean roles, at the Stratford Festival Theatre.
I wish I could have seen him in that role, as a bit of a variation from Montgomery’s character. Just a small variation of course.
Jonathan would return, years after his original debut as Gil, when the third Anne film was made, at the start of this new century.
It was a bit of a shock, to me in that moment, when I first saw him again. He was older, obviously, his voice having changed a fair bit from what I’d known it to sound like.
He pulled off a whole new, more serious role this time, going off to perform medical officer duty in a retelling, of sorts, of a story from World War I and I was newly impressed by where he would take that character.
It was a bit of a stretch from Montgomery’s original writing, but I wouldn’t read more of the books until several years later.
Of course, none of this would have happened if it weren’t for L.M.’s brilliant creation of the great love story of Gilbert and Anne, but Jonathan brought the character to life in ways I will never forget.
It was the way Crombie pulled off the deep and unwavering devotion and dedication to Anne and his pure love for her. I envied it. I only dreamt that anyone, in my real life, could or would ever love me like that.
Even as an old-fashioned story, theirs is a fictional love story that didn’t have lots of drama and back-and-forth, at least not for him. He played always his part, Gilbert Blythe, the cool, calm, and collected gentleman. The chivalrous doctor that once was a love-sick schoolboy.
Nothing, betrayed in that character, seemed to react. They took a sombre period in Canada’s history, now one hundred years ago, and they portrayed it, both Jonathan and Megan, and the rest of the cast, with grace and dignity, feeling and heart.
The tragic romance of doing the hard thing, the spectre of having to be separated, all coming alive from the pages of any history book I’ve ever read. A fictional story that I could, so easily, picture in real life.
Of course, I knew it to be a work of fiction, but Jonathan made me feel it in every line he spoke as Gilbert.
I wanted to include my favourite moment from his performance in Anne: The Continuing Story.
I will return to this story, again and again, to always see him in this greatest of great roles.
Watching the above clip of their reunion always did bring tears to my eyes, caused the all-too familiar butterflies in my stomach when I immediately went to watch on hearing the sad news, caused my heart to race like always, and will forevermore stir a deep feeling of nostalgia that can hardly be explained through words.
It is why I believe in the art of a fictional performance, when in spite of all the silliness of what acting often is, sometimes an actor gets it right. Sometimes it isn’t silly or frivolous. It means something.
And so I dare to be so bold as to use a line from Montgomery’s books and from the films themselves, not in an attempt to be over-dramatic for the sake of it.
Anne Shirley said it first. I say it now.
I didn’t know him. I never had the chance to meet him in person, but I would have liked to tell him all this, if I had.
“In the depths of despair.”
His passing has caused a strange empty feeling in me since I heard he was gone for real.
From what I read, his organs were donated. This only makes me love him even more.
How many people get to mean the things he’s meant to people like me and to give others a second chance at life through the sudden end of his own?
RIP Jonathan, Gil.